Back on the Gulf: Memorial grads Romar, Martin to taste Sugar

Published 9:11 pm Saturday, December 31, 2016

The last time Oklahoma played in a Sugar Bowl, the Sooners defeated heavily favored Alabama 45-31.

It was Jan. 2, 2014. Trevor Knight, who just completed his lone season at Texas A&M, quarterbacked the Sooners to victory and earned the game’s MVP award. And Matt Romar was a freshman from Port Arthur who was completing his redshirt freshman season.

Three years to the day, Romar will get his taste of Sugar.

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So will a fellow Memorial graduate, Auburn running back Kameron Martin.

“I know him very well,” Romar said. “When I was there [at Memorial], he was a little younger than me, but of course we were around each other a lot because we played.”

Martin is a true freshman who originally committed to Baylor.

The matchup for this season’s Sugar Bowl, which kicks off Monday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, was officially announced Dec. 4 along with the rest of the New Year’s Six bowls, which include the two national semifinals played Saturday. Romar realized then he and another Titan would share the same Sugar Bowl field.

“I get on Facebook. [Martin] already posted a picture on Facebook and tagged me before I could say something to him,” Romar said. “It’s just a picture of Oklahoma and Auburn playing.”

Maybe the greatest thing about Monday’s game for the Memorial faithful is that two Titans will suit up on the Gulf Coast.

“Very excited to be back close to home, which is 4 hours,” Romar said. “Have my family coming down. Auburn is a great team and we’re a great team, too.”

Needless to say, the Sooners and Tigers are great teams with plenty of history, but Martin and Romar endured some challenges during the season in getting to this point.

Romar only played eight games this season while dealing with a bruised knee he suffered against Texas Tech. That followed up a year in which he started 12 games (missed the Kansas State game with an injury) and had 23 tackles, including a sack.

The bruised knee was suffered on the road Oct. 22, one week after Oklahoma beat Texas in Dallas. It caused Romar to miss four games.

“It wasn’t my year this year, but everything happens for a reason,” Romar said. “That’s why God blessed me to have another [year] next year to get back to where I need to be and be better than what I was.”

He might not have immediately realized he was, in a sense, more productive in 2016. He set career highs of 5.5 tackles for losses and 2.5 sacks.

He credited plenty of that for his drive to perform better after a setback.

“That and one of my friends on the team,” he said of linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo of Houston. “He’s one of top runners in the Big 12. If you have him on your side and every quarterback is scared of him, you’re going to run into something. As long as you’re pushing the pocket — that comes with playing nose — I fell into 2.5 sacks.”

Oklahoma (10-2) also overcame the obstacle of a 1-2 start, including a stunning opening-game loss to the University of Houston at NRG Stadium and home loss to eventual national semifinalist Ohio State. The Sooners haven’t lost since, having earned another Big 12 crown with a home win over Oklahoma State on Dec. 3.

“We’ve never started a season 0-2,” Romar said of the Sooners, who beat Louisiana-Monroe in the second game. “We had to dig deep and see how bad we wanted it more than our opponents,” Romar said.

Martin’s collegiate journey nearly began at Baylor, with whom he signed his letter of intent last February. But that football program came under fire when a report by a  Philadelphia law firm revealed coach Art Briles and university officials failed to report sexual assaults allegedly committed by Baylor players to proper authorities. Briles was fired immediately after the report’s release in May.

As a result, Martin and other recent commits were allowed to be released from their letters of intent and sign with another program. Martin committed to Auburn (8-4) and has seen playing time as a true freshman.

He’s carried 44 times for 320 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games, making him the Tigers’ fourth-leading rusher. He capped a 56-3 blowout of Arkansas on Oct. 22 with a 51-yard touchdown run and finished with 80 rushing yards on seven carries.

“I’m so happy to see what he’s come up to be and how he’s grown,” Romar said. Attempts to reach Martin for this article were unsuccessful.

The Sugar Bowl will be the last game before the Jan. 9 national championship game, and two teams that have contended for titles in recent years will own the spotlight the night after New Year’s Day.

Romar has an idea how things will turn out.

“It’s all about who has God on their side and who has the better team that day,” he said.

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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